The new United States Ambassador to Vietnam says he entered the foreign service "completely by chance," though he says that his study of Japan as an Earlham student clearly had something to do with it.
A Japanese Studies and Philosophy major during his Earlham days, David Shear '75 spent his junior year in Japan, studying at Waseda University on Earlham's highly-regarded Japan Study program. He became fascinated by the cultures, languages and landscapes of Asia. After graduation, he returned to Japan to teach English. Later he traveled to Taiwan to study Chinese. Wanting to remain there, he visited the American Institute to apply for a new passport.
"In my long hair, jeans and sandals, I didn't look like a Foreign Service officer, but since I was an American who could speak Chinese, they hired me to interview visa applicants."
That first job led Shear to apply for the Foreign Service in 1979, and he received his first posting in 1982, after earning a master's degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins University.
Shear has been posted to Sapporo, Beijing, Tokyo and Kuala Lampur as well as holding a variety of State Department positions in Washington, serving variously in the areas of Japanese, Chinese and Korean affairs.
"I think I may have been Asian in a previous life," jokes Shear, noting that he has worked to understand issues from the point of view of other cultures. "Empathy is one of the most important characteristics of a diplomat. I have learned to listen carefully as people speak about their concerns."
Shear has been a Rusk Fellow at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. Shear also received the State Department's Superior Honor Award and the Defense Department's Civilian Meritorious Service Award for his work in U.S. Japan defense relations.
As ambassador to Vietnam, he hopes to further develop the strategic, economic and educational partnerships between the U.S. and Vietnam. But he has discovered that as much as the relationship between the two countries has changed in the last four decades, the war remains central to any dealings between the two countries.
"When I started preparing for this post, I believed that the American view of Vietnam was too focused on the war. But as I read about Vietnam, I discovered that emotions related to the war remain very important in Vietnam, and the United States cannot stop addressing the war. That knowledge will affect everything that I do."